As the web gets more sophisticated, we find new variations all the time. Chris points us to SwitchPlanet.Com. Craigslist meets eBay meets Netflix. For charity.
The latest book, Poke The Box is a call to action about the initiative you're taking - in your job or in your life, and Seth once again breaks the traditional publishing model by releasing it through The Domino Project.
As the web gets more sophisticated, we find new variations all the time. Chris points us to SwitchPlanet.Com. Craigslist meets eBay meets Netflix. For charity.
The secrets might surprise you. The most successful b2b organizations, in my opinion, understand the value of:
We worked very closely with Brian and his team at Viget for a many months building the initial architecture of Squidoo. There are plenty of shops that can do web programming, plenty that claim they can do UI work and plenty that are even hipper than you. There are very few that manage to pull off the kind of work that Viget does. They were on time, on budget and most important, they didn't cause anyone to lose sleep.
The very things that I look for as a consumer (surprise, fashion, edginess) were in short supply here. Instead, Viget went out of their way to never overpromise. They pushed the hard decisions early in the process so that the thrashing was early, not late. In fact, the end of the process was the most delightful part. Because they know who they are and are clear about it to themselves and to their clients, the chances of making an honest connection with their clients is much higher than someone who is trying to be all things to all people.
Drew Dusebout, a broker/financial planner I know at UBS is the same way. Drew doesn't make vague promises about financial returns, and he doesn't get all excited at the latest gimmick. Instead, he's honest with himself and his colleagues about the world he works in, and his clients always get exactly what they expect. Sure, this is a more difficult way to grow (at first) because you can't seduce the people who are the most likely to jump ship. You can't promise some shortcut that gets you the quick clients. But in the long run, I don't know of any other way to market a service like his.
Here's the hard part about this: if you're very good at what you do, you won't grow. Because lots of people are good at what you do. No one is going to be busy referring you and sending you business just because you're very good. Sorry.
The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good. In fact, it's to find something that organizations need and be the very best in the world at it. Hopefully, that thing is something that organizations in your sphere are eager to talk about among themselves. If it is, you win. There's a line at your door for years to come.
This is part of a larger trend, which is realizing that an amazing hire is worth far more than a mediocre one, or even a very good one.
There's a difference between being noticed and succeeding.
Sometimes you need to be noticed far and wide in order to succeed. That's why some TV ads for low-involvement products are noisy or funny or over the top.
Often though, especially for something like a job, I think that sacrificing your message in order to get noticed is a mistake. Making a video that tries to be funny in order to spread doesn't necessarily get you the right applicants.
Here's what's missing from the hiring equation: organizations try to treat jobs like commodities and as a result, often end up treating themselves as commodities. All jobs are the same, our job is a little closer and we pay a little better, call us. Sure, companies all brag about the work environment and benefits and such, but when they come right down to it, they're not so different.
But what if you were different?
Just as a great product becomes remarkable--not because of the marketing claims, but because it really is worth talking about--a great job can be the same sort of thing. I'd use the video in a different way. Instead of trying to be funny viral, I'd try to be honest viral. Let me really understand who the boss is going to be, what the office is like, what the work is like. Sell the job, not the job opening.
Of course, this isn't an easy thing to do, but neither is marketing anything else.
...with a smile on your face is almost always more important than what you actually say or do.
Sure, every farmer knows that rotating crops helps the soil recover and increases yield.
What about email farming? I was talking to Josh today about this and it occurred to me that the rules are the same.
If you're sending emails regularly, don't send the same thing. Don't send the same format, don't send the same offer, don't ask for the same response. Rotating your offers and your interactions maintains interest, surprise and makes your core offers more appealing.
I think doing name tags properly transforms a meeting. Here's why:
a. people don't really know everyone, even if they think they do.
b. if you don't know someone's name, you are hesitant to talk to them.
c. if you don't talk to them, you never get to know them and you both lose.
d. if you are wearing a name tag, it's an invitation to start a conversation.
One summer, I led 90 people, some strangers to each other, through a three-day training. Every single person had to wear a hat with his or her name on it until every person in the group knew every other person's name and could prove it. It took two days. Worth it.
Doing a name tag right isn't easy. Here are my rules:
a. BIG first name
b. positioned in a place where you can see it
c. ideally two-sided, on a short lanyard (why on earth would you make a one-sided lanyard tag?)
d. a piece of information that is an ice breaker. Here's my latest example. Every single sticker had a different picture. No real logic behind it. But what if there was? What if attendees picked their favorite movie star, metaphor, state capital, political gaffe, Saturday Night Live skit... anything worth talking about?
Mormon evangelists all wear name tags. Great idea. Doctors used to. Too bad they don't. Now it's almost like a Prisoner thing, where the only purpose of the tag is to enable you to tattle on someone who doesn't give you good service.
Pete points us to These Come From Trees Blog. I think the fascinating thing here is to start from the bottom and read his thought process. How it turned from an idea into a story and then a product. Even the non-professional typesetting is a key part of what's going on here.
Does context matter?
If you're running a pay per click ad designed to support a cost-per-acquisition strategy, (Google AdWords, et.al.) then does it matter where your ad runs?
Remember, the point of the ad is to get someone to click (that's what you're charged for... the click) and then the goal of the site is to convert that click into permission and eventually a customer.
So, does it matter where the ad runs if it works?
Media buyers sure think so. Jason Klein at Special Ops Media says, "With Quigo, you know it's on ESPN.com, not Joe Schmo's sports blog."
I can understand why a media buyer would say this. I can understand why Jason Clement at Carat said, "We had essentially pulled all of those big advertisers off of the ad networks [Google, Yahoo] by the end of the year." After all, the media buyers need to demonstrate that they are using their hard-earned intuition to actually earn their commissions.
But if I were one of those 'big advertisers,' I'd think really hard about whether Jason is doing me a service. The hard work of running contextual ads is testing. Run an ad, test the landing page, see what works. If it works, do it more. If it doesn't work, do it less.
Sure, you need to start with intuition. But my intuition tells me that Joe Schmo's sports blog might actually perform better than a high-profile site. My intuition tells me that a click process that begins on a digital photo review site is more likely to lead to a purchase than one that begins on a fine art website.
In order to make this work, the big ad networks need to tell you where the traffic is coming from and they need to make it easy for you to choose where to run the ads next time so you can repeat and scale the process.
The funny thing is that this context argument was perfected by the big networks when cable TV came along. They used it to justify selling unmeasurable expensive ads on mass market network shows against the competition: unmeasurable ads on more focused cable shows. Then it happened again with banner ads--the big name sites always could charge more than the smaller ones.
This time, though, we've got numbers. Let's use em.
"The building was full—though not completely full—of cheerful..." Kelefa Sanneh in today's New York Times. That was enough to get me to stop reading.
Here's the thing: people are reading less than ever. They're reading faster than ever. And they're jumping to the next thing at a moment's notice.
Why waste a sentence saying nothing?
Worse, why say less than nothing by being contradictory or vague or (worst of all) hyperbolic? Even if you think your site is, "the most unique," you probably need to edit your words.
Jim Davis, CEO of New Balance, in the Boston Globe (thanks, Damian):
Q. What was wrong with New Balance's approach to apparel?
A It was my fault. We just didn't do it right. We didn't have the right people. We tried to be all things to all people and didn't do anything right.
If I walk into a hotel in the United States and find myself near the ballroom where a trade show is being held, I can tell, without being shown the room, exactly what the trade show is going to look like. Layout, booth styles, what the attendees are wearing... If I walk into a certain kind of italian restaurant in most cities around the world, I can tell exactly what is going to be on the menu and approximately what each item is going to cost. When I sit down on an airplane, I know exactly what the flight attendant is going to say, and when. When the phone rings and it's a person trying to sell me financial services, I know what she's going to say... (and you can probably guess the rest of this paragraph).
There's nothing wrong with not surprising people. In fact, most of the time, you don't want to surprise people. I don't want to be surprised when I use an electric drill, and I don't want to be surprised when they're doing surgery on me.
But if you want the word to spread, if you expect me to take action I've never taken before, it seems to me that you need to do something that hasn't been done before. It might not feel safe, but if you do the safe thing, I guarantee you won't surprise anyone. And if you don't surprise anyone, the word isn't going to spread.
We're rich! We're rich! We're all rich. Tom points us to dnscoop.com. Have fun.
It's viral because it's interesting, not because it's accurate. And it's interesting partly because it talks about how much money you have. Sort of the new fortune telling.
What do most people get out of blogging? After all, most blogs are virtually unread by outsiders...
The act of writing a blog changes people, especially business people. The first thing it does is change posture. Once you realize that no HAS to read your blog, that you can't MAKE them read your blog, you approach writing with humility and view readers with gratitude. The second thing it does is force you to be clear. If you write something that's confusing or in shorthand, you fail.
Respectful and clear. That's a lot to get out of something that doesn't take much time.
Dean points us to: Alchemic Spot.
Feet in the street beats billboards every time.
Two kinds of people:
A business blog reader (book reader, seminar go-er) asks, "how can I do what I do better?"
Someone else says, "I'm doing fine, leave me alone."
It's not about criticism or the avoidance thereof. It's a thirst for insight, for shortcuts and for results.
I've been writing a lot about this topic lately and thinking about it more. I have a radical proposal for you, but it takes a few paragraphs, so I hope you'll bear with me.
Customer service is broken. Not just because of bad management, though we have plenty of that to go around. Customer service is broken for three reasons:
1. The internet has taught us to demand everything immediately (and perfect). As a result, we expect that every single time we pick up the phone or deal with someone in a retail setting, we'll be dealing with the Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction, the head of accounting and the chief of quality control, all at the same time. We expect instant results and undivided attention.
2. The rapid proliferation of choice has taught us to demand that everything should be cheap. As a result, we won't pay extra for superior service, which means companies need to hire cheap.
3. The availability of blogs and other public histories means that it is harder than ever to treat different customers differently. Word gets out.
As a result of these three inexorable trends, companies are on defense. They are forced to add a new layer to their pyramid, and yes, it's on the bottom. This layer consists of lots and lots of people, the cheapest the company can find. These folks are ill-trained, poorly supported and under lots of pressure. There is a lot of turnover (what a surprise) and most are working with nothing more than a simple manual and a lot of metrics.
No wonder customer service is so bad.
Well, one path is to yell louder at the companies, who will yell louder at their staffs.
Another path is to blow it up and start over.
I think the single factor that is killing this process and that is under the company's control is this: the desire to perform all customer service in real time.
In fact, most customer service can be done quite well overnight. You don't like your cell phone bill? (I get a lot of mail about this one). If you knew it was going to be handled properly, you'd have no trouble waiting a few days. Your airline ticket from a trip last week was messed up? Same thing.
Given the choice between amazing, guaranteed service with a one day wait or interminable waits on hold with people who can't really help you right now... well, the choice is pretty easy.
Imagine what happens when we take advantage of the asynchronous nature of this sort of support.
There's still a cadre of people answering the phone, but they are trained to do exactly two things. 1. Make it really clear to the caller that there is a problem, that the caller deserves great service and that things will be dealt with, and 2. Get every single relevant piece of information.
This isn't hard to train for. But yes, it needs and deserves training.
Now, the problem goes into a system (good news on this in a moment). And the problem works its way up the pyramid. Each person who touches it either takes responsibility for solving it thoroughly and completely or passes it up the heirarchy. Any problem not solved within 20 hours goes to some senior level executive who gets it solved or gets fired. (I'm serious).
At the end of the month, there's an easy trail to follow. You can see who solved how many problems. You can see who is passing the buck when they should be grabbing it. You can identify the delighted customers and what delighted them.
And because it turns out to be far more efficient, it's actually cheaper. Which means companies can put better staff on the problems and pull even farther ahead of their competition.
As I see it, there are three things that have to happen for this to work.
1. The frontline staff have to be really good at making this program clear and at gathering the data. They ought to offer the caller a realtime option, but only when it's clear that this offers a significant benefit to the caller.
2. There needs to be cheap and effective software that lets someone start using this without a lot of custom programming. I've found one alternative,(even though they don't actually market it for this use) and I bet there are others. It really works. It's not like me to recommend a commercial product specifically like this, but I'm talking about Fogbugz because I think they've accidentally revolutionized a huge piece of management. What the software does is allow exactly one person at a time to 'own' a piece of a project, a bug, an issue. That person either solves it or pass it off. And the entire process is tracked and timestamped and tickled, so absolutely nothing is permitted to languish.
3. The company can't use the diminished pressure that asynchronous support delivers as a copout to do less. Instead, they have to use it as an opportunity to be overwhelmingly spectacular. Use the money they save to potlach their customers.
If you try it, let me know how it's working for you.
As usual with the master, I can't add much at all. I promise you'll get something useful out of this post. If not, "it's my fault." Seven steps to remarkable customer service - Joel on Software.
Many people have dropped me a line about JetBlue. Here's my simple prescription:
This is a Native American term for a ceremony involving dancing, feasting, and the most memorable part: giving someone too much. If I ran JetBlue, I'd go to each of the people affected (and it's not that many) and give each person 40 free round trip tickets. Or maybe 50. More than any person could use for a long, long while. Let them fly with as many friends as they like until they've used up 50 seats.
When the world is focused on your actions, magnifying your response is almost always a good idea. Not panicking is a good idea too, and it seems as though they've got that part covered.
The other day, I attended a talent show in the Bronx. A friend described it as, "more show than talent," but the spirit and enthusiasm of the performers and the hundreds in the audience was infectious. After two hours, though, everyone was dragging.
Then a dancer came out and the PA started playing a song by Fergie:
Comin' to me call me Stacy (Hey Stacy)
I'm the F to the E, R, G the I the E
And can't no other lady put it down like me
The place erupted. Grandmothers were literally dancing in the aisles. It was a perfect example of mass hysteria. The song was popular in that moment for exactly one reason: because it was popular. It gave a diverse audience a chance to share a piece of pop culture. It was safe.
The goal of many marketers is to create a moment like this. To capture the attention of the masses. Alas, not too much room at this table. The real opportunity is this:
To create micro hysteria.
To find pockets of the population that interact with each other and create that sort of experience. Susan Sontag did it (everyone in that circle read her latest). Joel Spolsky does it. Too often, marketers have mass envy. Far better to obsess about owning the micro audience, at least for a moment, then to waste your energy trying to be everything to everyone.
Martin points us to: Call for neuroethics as brain science races ahead
The only surprising thing about our ability to understand the decision making process is that it took so long. There are no magic tricks going on inside of our brains... a magical little elf who mysteriously decides to buy this cola instead of that one... it's just grey goo and the hard part was getting a good enough look to figure it out. Thanks to scanning technology, they're starting to do just that.
A few years ago, I was in France, within an hour's drive of Lascaux, home of the oldest paintings known to man. These are the famous cave painting that everyone has heard about but few people have actually seen. We didn't go and I've regretted it ever since.
Today I learned that due to the humidity caused by the breathing of tourists, you can't see the caves anyway. Instead, you are shown a fiberglass replica in the visitor center. I'm told it's a really good replica.
I feel better now. No way I'd drive three minutes out of my way to see a fiberglass replica.
And yet when I go to a live concert, I'm not really hearing acoustic sounds. I'm hearing electronically amplified sounds, even if it's classical music or a Broadway show. And yet, when I hustle to watch some live event on television, it may not really be live... there's no way for me to tell, actually.
What's the point of walking through Lincoln's birthplace if it's not exactly as it was—how many floorboards have to be replaced before it's a replica? Marni Nixon sang the songs in West Side Story, the King and I and My Fair Lady. Was she the star or was it the face on the screen?
This goes beyond authenticity. It's all about the story we tell ourselves. Hollywood makes it easy to believe that Audrey Hepburn was the star, while the fiberglass diorama in France doesn't feel right. We want to believe about Washington and the cherry tree and about Lincoln and his never-said-it quote, "You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time."
Consumers are begging to be sold on the authentic. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to be authentic. And yet, ever since they replaced the sugar in Coke with corn syrup, who knows any more... Being inauthentic is tricky, unpredictable and often wrong. But it also works.
The fact is, most of the people want to be fooled, just about all of the time.
[facts galore: Harry points out that the 'Lincoln birthplace' isn't really. Margaret mentions that there are cave paintings in Australia far older than those in France. And Mary Ann and Ivan call me on the amplification of classical music. They're often right, but I've got links.]
Add this to your rules of thumb file:
When designing something (anything), if it doesn't cost you (in terms of design, brand or functionality), then always use bigger type.
I just wrestled a Linksys router to the ground after an hour. On the back of the router, the IP address and password are embossed in 8 point silver type (on a silver background). The cost of making it twice the size: zero. Same with your instruction manual, the emergency instructions on your airplane or the menu in your restaurant. The CD player I just tried to use has the same problem... the numbers on the inside of the player are tiny, black on black and unreadable.
Style matters. It's a big part of design. But at some point, style fails part of your audience (and I'm under 50!).
[PS I did live chat with Linksys and Rosell was amazing. Problem solved. Recommended.]
Here's what used to happen: A publisher had a magazine, or a big pile of stamps and a mailing list. She'd hire a copywriter or a stable of them. Sometimes the combination worked out and end up with the New Yorker or LL Bean. But other times (most of the time) it's just a waste. Either the stuff that goes out is lousy or the great writers don't get heard. (More than 70,000 books got published in the US last year... how many have you read?)
Blogs change that. Someone like Corey (Shaveblog) has to worry about nothing other than his ability to keep to a regular schedule. But when he writes something like this:
The best part of all this is that you’ll start off with this rig, and then once you’re up to speed and feeling all modern mannish and whatnot, you’ll want to hunt the really big game, so you’ll go down all sorts of expensive paths snatching up adjustable DEs, gold-plated vintage Gillettes, scary-sharp extreme-geek blades, gigantic brushes of exotic bristle with more ludicrous backstory than Anderson Cooper , and when your adrenal gland finally gives out and you reach the end of what’s buyable and eBayable, you’ll realize that you never got a better shave than you did with your first Merkur HD and your little Vulfix brush.
...it gets straight to us, unfiltered.
Same thing when Tom Asacker takes on authenticity:
Dove is a Unilever brand. But guess what? So is Axe . Uniliver's Dove celebrates women by encouraging them to take pleasure in their individual beauty. Unilever's Axe portrays women as a ditsy, sex crazed collective. Same company. Two worldviews. Or at least, that's how they present themselves to us through their marketing. Truth be told, as consumers, we really have no clue. So pardon the cynicism, but Unilever, therefore, is not being authentic. But here's the question: Do we care?
It's not just blogs, either. Someone like John Wood (the other John Wood) without using a lot of design skills, can build a thriving permission marketing business without a lot of money. Just by paying attention, being consistent and keeping his promises, John can cut through the noise and do very well, thanks.
The filter is important, sometimes. It keeps us focused and on time and from veering too far in the wrong direction. But in a Long Tail world, the filter is actually better off gone.
The thing most people miss most is that they no longer have an excuse. Without a publisher/editor/boss to blame, your writing is your writing. Your followup is your followup. That means some people become trains without tracks. They just sit there.
The barriers are gone, the costs are zero. The question is: what are you going to do with your writing?
An interview with Seth Godin (mostly about ad agencies and CMOs).
It's a podcast. Some excerpts:
Sally: How can CMOs stay 'small' if their primary objective is to gain market share?
Seth: If any CMO’s primary objective is to gain market share, she should get a new job.
He clicks on the first match. He gets an error on the HP site.
The question: how come the product manager (and the product certainly has one) didn't know about this? I don't think it's that hard to keep an eye on it...
Most ideas spread slowly. They're like submarines, pushing their way through the muck of inattention and eventually they just fade away.
But some ideas spread like stones skipping across the top of the water. They move through a population in a hurry, touching most people and sometimes leaving a long-lasting memory. My post on Google yesterday generated more email than most posts I do... because it was trivial. It was safe to write in and talk about Google's lame explanation that the stem was green, or the fact that all you need is 'l'ove. The best ones were the people who pointed out that they should have saved it for Christmas, because, after all, there's no L.
That's the same reason everyone is talking about an astronaut driving cross country wearing diapers. Or why it's so easy to obsess about the latest gossip.
The toxic stories spread as well. The difference is that in addition to spreading, they leave a mark. It might be the impact a failed shoe bomber has (years later, we still take off our shoes in homage) or an urban legend (there never were razor blades in apples on Halloween) or the damaging impact of one encounter with an abusive relative.
Marketers, understandably, often try to be neither of these. But we compare ourselves to them when we dream up our plans. We want our ideas to spread like wildfire, or to have impact that lasts, but we often forget that different ideas spread differently. A quick look at Digg demonstrates that the easiest way to get Dugg is to have a trivial idea. And the easiest way to get noticed when you're a politician is to do something that ruins your career forever...
The Bissell vacuum cleaner people are jumping on the Dyson bandwagon. Their vacuum looks like and works like a Dyson, but it's cheaper. And more important, it's a vacuum for people who didn't buy a Dyson when it was new and cool three years ago.
In other words, it's a mass market version of the Dyson.
So why does the copy lead off with, "The Bissell Healthy Home Vacuum is built like no other vacuum."
Even if this is technically true, it not only doesn't matter, it doesn't help.
The worldview of the mass market consumer is, "I want something safe and proven and inexpensive. I want to solve my problem and move on." The copy says, "This is a vacuum for vacuum geeks." Mismatch. Write for your audience.
Michael points us this to this short video: YouTube - Lick, which points to a website that's in a very traditional b2b financial sector. But the twist is precisely the sort of storytelling I've been ranting about.
Miriam wrote in, taking me to task for calling Dell a failure. I sent her this chart of Dell's stock price vs. the S&P 500. She told me she was persuaded.
But it got me thinking about what it means to fail.
Dell makes good products. They make a profit. They keep (most of) their promises. Lots of good people work hard every day. Are they failures?
Opportunity cost and prioritization are harsh taskmasters. When you have a lot of resources and assets to put to work, the marketplace expects that you will use them in the best possible way. If you don't, those resources go somewhere else. So, sure, a SuperBowl ad makes your business go up. But does it go up as much as if you had spent the $2 million inventing a new product instead?
If your blog has 1,000 regular readers, are you a failure if it doesn't reach 2,000 by next month?
This is where the tyranny comes in.
If you make all your decisions based on opportunity cost and the fear of failure, you're almost certain to fail. Safe really is risky. The Zune is the classic example of this approach. Protecting against downside and being conservative in the face of a priority list means that you'll choose the obvious and the predictable instead of the subtle or the remarkable. And your competition, especially those that perceive that they have nothing to lose, will surprise you every time.
The laws of the market haven't been repealed. What has changed (due to ease of market entry, low cost of technology and manufacture and the high value of fast-moving ideas) is that the way you must capitalize on opportunity has changed.
Failure now means never failing.
The media can't handle too much choice. And the media is us.
Ten people running for President? No way. We need to pick two, they say. So someone is anointed the front runner, someone else the challenger and everyone else is a dwarf. And sometimes it appears that these decisions are self-fulfilling prophecies.
Individuals, pundits, consumers, organizations, partners and reporters all need front runners. Starbucks and Nike and the iPod, it was decided, were king of the hill, and so it became so.
Here's the irony: more often than not, the front runner loses. Windows and GM and Dell...
The front runner loses elections and market fights and even the race for homecoming queen because being the front runner changes the way one behaves. It diminishes the appetite for change and for risk. As a result, as markets (or electorates) change, it gets more and more difficult to stay in front.
The best combination is a front runner who is certain, deep down, that he's losing, and acts accordingly. The second-best combination is to be ignored by those in search of a front runner as you quietly and aggressively take the risks a front runner would never take.
You've probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking.
The TSA 'screener' who forces a mom to drink from a bottle of breast milk because any other action is not in the manual. A 'customer service' rep who will happily reread a company policy six or seven times but never stop to actually consider what the policy means. A marketing executive who buys millions of dollars of TV time even though she knows it's not working--she does it because her boss told her to.
It's ironic but not surprising that in our age of increased reliance on new ideas, rapid change and innovation, sheepwalking is actually on the rise. That's because we can no longer rely on machines to do the brain-dead stuff.
We've mechanized what we could mechanize. What's left is to cost-reduce the manual labor that must be done by a human. So we write manuals and race to the bottom in our search for the cheapest possible labor. And it's not surprising that when we go to hire that labor, we search for people who have already been trained to be sheepish.
Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?
And graduate school? Since the stakes are higher (opportunity cost, tuition and the job market), students fall back on what they've been taught. To be sheep. Well-educated, of course, but compliant nonetheless.
And many organizations go out of their way to hire people that color inside the lines, that demonstrate consistency and compliance. And then they give these people jobs where they are managed via fear. Which leads to sheepwalking. ("I might get fired!")
The fault doesn't lie with the employee, at least not at first. And of course, the pain is often shouldered by both the employee and the customer.
Is it less efficient to pursue the alternative? What happens when you build an organization like Goretex or the Acumen Fund? At first, it seems crazy. There's too much overhead, too many cats to herd, too little predictability and way too much noise. Then, over and over, we see something happen. When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff.
And the sheepwalkers and their bosses just watch and shake their heads, certain that this is just an exception, and that it is way too risky for their industry or their customer base.
I was at a Google conference last month, and I spent some time in a room filled with (pretty newly minuted) Google salesreps. I talked to a few of them for a while about the state of the industry. And it broke my heart to discover that they were sheepwalking.
Just like the receptionist at a company I visited a week later. She acknowledged that the front office is very slow, and that she just sits there, reading romance novels and waiting. And she's been doing it for two years.
Just like the MBA student I met yesterday who is taking a job at a major packaged goods company... because they offered her a great salary and promised her a well-known brand. She's going to stay, "for just ten years, then have a baby and leave and start my own gig..." She'll get really good at running coupons in the Sunday paper, but not particularly good at solving new problems.
What a waste.
Step one is to give the problem a name. Done. Step two is for anyone who sees themself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.
The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that's to embrace non-sheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it. As we've seen just about everywhere there's been growth lately, that's where the good stuff happens.
[I just reread this, and I'm betting some people will think I'm being way too harsh. That depends. It depends on whether you believe that people have a considerable amount of innate potential, that work is too time-consuming to be dull and that organizations need passion (from employees and from customers) if they want to grow. If you believe that the relationship between marketers and the people they touch is important enough to invest in. I think if you believe all that, if you believe in yourself and your co-workers, then this isn't nearly harsh enough. We need to hurry. We need to wake up.]
Anders wrote me a note and wondered about this email in his inbox, from Amazon.
I didn't authorize this book to be published, I have no idea who the publisher is and I certainly didn't ask Amazon to email anyone.
This is partially my fault because the creative commons license I chose for the copyright doesn't preclude something like this. However, trademark law is really clear and there's no doubt in my mind that selling this as a new book with my name on it is not kosher. I wrote the book in 2005 and intended it all along as a freebie. If you want to buy a copy, feel free... the issue isn't the royalties, it's that people are being willfully misled. This isn't a new Seth Godin book. There, now you know.
So, save your money. Tell your friends. If you did buy the book, please feel free to return it. I apologize for the inconvenience.
[UPDATE: First, I want to clarify the above... I thought I was clear, but trackbacks seem to indicate that I wasn't. I fully realize that the Creative Commons license I chose permits someone to sell the ebook or even turn it into a book. I had no problem with that. My concern was that the book was being passed off as something new. That my trademark (and your expectations) were violated when Amazon sent out an email indicating that in 2007 I had a new book come out on this topic.
The news is that the publisher of the book was incredibly responsive and has changed the cover. He's being really clear about the origin of the book now, and that was my point all along. If you want it in book form, then of course, go buy it! Now that you know what you're getting.]
I am starting to make progress in trying to figure out why people are so upset about the state of customer service today. Here's a big piece:
Some organizations are trying to profit from a monopolistic/1984 attitude.
For example, when working your way through airport security, the TSA people don't want to negotiate with you. They don't want to discuss the absurdity of requiring a ziploc bag to hold just one item--they just want you to throw it away. That's a key part of law enforcement. The enforcement part.
Well, if it works for irrational government agencies, it can also work for cell phone companies and other near monopolies. It makes it a lot cheaper and a lot quicker to keep people in line.
And consumers, being spoiled, hate this.
It's exacerbated by an interesting twist: many of these organizations pretend that they're not really acting this way. They don't say, "Yes, ma'am, I know you're upset, but you have no choice. If you want to get on this plane, you must throw that out, even though there's no reason. Tough." Instead, they try to reason with the customer and pretend that they realize we have a lot of choices and that they're grateful for our business. Of course, the person you're dealing with isn't actually grateful. In fact, if you went away, it would make her day a lot better.
Three cheers for the organization that says, "In order to keep prices low and traffic moving, we're unable to discuss our policies with you. We're very sorry if this inconveniences you." It's far better than the charade that so many large companies go through. It saves the expedient from having an argument and gives those that can't stand this approach fair warning to look for an alternative.
Treb points us to this short video on digital text from a professor in Kansas.
Publish or perish indeed. Now that the publishing part is free and without friction, and now that a professor can boil down complex topics to vivid videos, why aren't tens of thousands of professors scrambling to do this?
Half a million people seem to agree with me. How many people would have read his book?
Coincidence: I'm flying to Miami last week. Sort of weird guy sits next to me. We don't talk much, but I notice him. We land. I go to my hotel, have an hour to spare before my speech, go to the gym to work out. He walks in.
Coincidence: Last night, I'm flipping through a really old reference book from when I used to write trivia questions. Spend five minutes reading the entry on Gary Glitter who I confess I had never heard of. Today, on the radio, I hear he's being reprieved and let out of a Vietnamese jail early.
Coincidence: I've had my cell phone for two years. I have never once received a text message. Two weeks ago, I sign up for Facebook (long story) and need to confirm my ID by using my cell phone and a text message. In the last 10 days, I've received more than ten text messages, all commercial.
Reason 1 you need to worry about coincidence: human beings want explanations, even for totally random events. So they make up stories. If those stories are about you (I have no proof that Facebook is selling my number) then you have to live with that.
Reason 2: if you can cause coincidences to happen, people are going to talk about you. And that might be a good thing.
Yehuda shares this list with us:
There are many incorrect ways to formulate an apology, but only a few correct ones.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best:
The Compete Attention 200™ is a ranking of 200 sites based on time spent. UPS, for example, ranks way higher than Fedex, and MySpace is number one.
This is just silly.
Any website that attempts to improve time spent on every page (or pageviews for that matter) is just wasting time. What matters is intent. Permission. Action. Retention. Likelihood that ideas get spread. Clickthroughs.
Just because we can measure it doesn't mean it's important. Anyone want to buy stock in the globe.com?
Young's modulus is a measurement of stiffness. I'm pretty sure they mean the stiffness of various materials, like steel or wool, but wouldn't it be great if we could apply this measurement to people and their organizations?
Some industries have a very high modulus. They resist new ideas and go so far as to expunge new thinkers from their midst. Others have a low modulus, they flop from new thing to new thing, never sticking it out long enough to actually get somewhere.
We've all been on sales calls where the very presence of a conference room and a salesperson means that the prospect's Young's modulus has been dramatically raised. Just walking into the room increases her stiffness.
Stiffness, as any willow tree can tell you, is not always a good thing. Excessive stiffness can lead to brittleness, to missing the boat because you're just plain stubborn. At the other extreme, those with way too low a modulus just end up doing whatever the group is into in this minute.
What can you do with this useful measurement? I think the marketing approach you take has to reflect the modulus of the person you're marketing to. Selling a new pop record takes a lot less persistence than getting a Fortune 500 company to change its insurance carrier.
More interesting, though, is the internal opportunity. If the organization you work for is too stiff, you can change it. First, by talking about it. By measuring it. By pointing out how long it takes you to adopt a new technology, or how many sales calls it takes for you to adopt something great. After a while, the people with good ideas get the message and they stop showing up.
So, in the NFL, if the coach thinks the ref made a bad call, he can take a risk. He bets a time out and the refs review the tape. If the call was correct, the coach loses the time out. If the call was wrong, he gets it fixed.
You know what's wrong with this system? The referees never apologize. They don't say, "Upon reviewing the tape, we realized that we made a bad call. We're really sorry." In fact, in addition to saying they're sorry, they ought to give the coach a bonus time out as a way of rewarding him for his troubles.
If it's hard to say you're sorry when it's your fault and when there is no money at stake, imagine how hard it is to say you're sorry when neither is true.
And yet, if reading the constant stream of horrible customer service stories that cross my desk every day, that's all anyone wants. A bonus time out, an apology and making it right. It is certainly, without any question at all, the cheapest marketing technique available today. Not to mention one that feels good in the long run. I wrote about this a bit in September, but it's worth a refocus here.
But is an apology sincere?
Well, I can't imagine how the following sentence could be false if uttered by anyone with a conscience, "I'm really sorry about the way you feel. We work really hard and do our best to avoid problems like this, but it's obvious you feel mistreated and I want to fix it. I'm really sorry about all this."
It's cheap, it works, and it's the right thing. So why not do it?*
Ego, power and fear. Three lousy reasons. Time to get over it, come clean and grow.
*The big company readers say, "we have too many people to apologize to" to which I share this note from the founder of Mozy after some wide-scale screw ups:
As some of you may have noticed, the month of December and early January was a challenging time for us. We were overwhelmed by the demand for the Mozy backup service, and had a difficult time keeping up. [...]
So, to try and make up for the problems we've experienced, and to thank you for hanging in there, we like to offer you the follow options:
If you had a really frustrating experience, click here to get 3 months free service added to your account.
If you hit some glitches, but everything mostly worked out for you, click here to get 2 months free service added to your account.
If things went just fine this last month, click here to get 1 month free service added to your account.
But if you'd rather just let us know you're doing okay and you don't need the extra month of free service, click here to let us know.
If you have any questions or feedback, don't hesitate to email me personally. We're here to protect your data - and we thank you for hanging in there during our growing pains.
Mozy.com, Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.
I lose mine all the time. You probably do too.
So here's my idea. And I don't even want to wait to patent it and license it... you should just build it.
It's two credit card sized devices. One goes in my wallet. The other is taped to the back of my phone (or ipod).
Whenever they get more than thirty feet apart, they both start whistling like banshees.
Is this hard? I don't think it is. I'd buy one. I'd even pay extra to have it built into the phone itself.
It's hard to remember back 23 years ago, but back then, when dinosaurs walked the earth, a few things were true:
1. commercials were commercials--they sold stuff
2. content was content--it wasn't filled with commercials (check out this tennis tournament via Patricia: not a billboard in sight).
The Apple ad changed everything. It was now commercial as content, commercial as event. The Apple ad was seen by more people after the game via free media than saw it during the game itself.
So, as you waste an evening watching television, understand that the media game you're watching (as opposed to the football game) is not about selling anything per se. Instead, it's about creating a short little movie that spreads. Yes, it's permission marketing. Permission marketing because viewers are asking for the ads, they want the ads, they look forward to them. BUT, we're not watching them because we want to buy or even to learn (the way, say, Google ads work). We're watching because we want to be in on the joke, to have something to share. It's big enough that there are entire web pages about the commercials. I'll be contributing to the one at Adweek, at least until I get too bored with the game...
The commercial aspect of this is fascinating as well. Who wins? Probably not the shareholders. Someone at Frito Lay told me that they can prove that enough people buy chips during halftime (they leave their house and race out to the store) that the ads pay for themselves. But insurance?
The winners, I think, are the agencies and the pundits and those that would like advertising to be more than it actually is.
Lots of mail about the Aqua Teen guerrilla marketing Boston thing.
More than ten years ago, I co-wrote four of the Guerrilla Marketing books. At the time, Jay Levinson and I were focused at helping small businesses break out of the helpless rut of leaving advertising to the big guys. There were plenty of niches where smaller organizations could really thrive without becoming pariahs in their community.
It hasn't taken long for the game to be totally rebuilt.
In the face of high ad rates and stunningly low effectiveness, many advertisers are getting selfish and angry. Rather than investing the money they would have spent on ads into products and services, they're just running more invasive ads. Even in this picture of one of the Aqua Teen guerrillas we see a logo and an ad... in fact, it's almost impossible to go anywhere or do anything without seeing an ad.
Try to imagine a TV executive in 1972 or 1985 explaining that the nationwide rollout of a new TV show would involve battery-operated LiteBrite boxes with an offensive little sprite icon on them... inconceivable. Today, it's not only not surprising, it's predictable.
So, what am I cynical about? I'm cynical that anyone is going to be able to do anything to stop it. That any government organization or any group of consumers is going to be effective in stopping the tsunami (and I don't use the word lightly) of unanticipated, impersonal and irrelevant spam that fills our lives. I have no idea if Boston should have spent half a million dollars on this problem, or if the population should have freaked out in fear. I do know that whatever they do isn't going to change the way marketers do (what they erroneously think is) their jobs. There's just too much money on the table.
My hopeful side says that marketers should start taking responsibility for what we do, and start marketing to people the way we'd like to be marketed to. The cynical side of me realizes that this isn't bloody likely.
The only thing that will make it go away is when it ceases to work.
Robin shares this story:
In January I took my Subaru Outback to the dealer for an oil change, new battery etc. The last time I took it in I picked up a freshly washed car, it was a new free service they offered.
Cool I thought. But noticed the dashboard was still quite dusty. OK maybe I'm being petty but if you're going to go to the trouble of washing the customers car then a 2 second wipe of a dusty dashboard would make the job 100% and not "half assed". They also started giving a follow up phone call to make sure customers were happy with the service.
I wondered if they would wash my car this time, I assumed not. Not in January, too cold. I was right, the car was not washed when I picked it up. I understood.
But the next day I did get the follow up phone call. I said I was happy with the service, but asked what was included in the "oil change". Did they usually check the other fluids, tires etc.?
Yes, a 30 point inspection was always included, all fluids, tires, lights, everything (more accurately 30 things). I mentioned that after my "30 point inspection" my windshield washer was still bone dry and one front tire was still visibly low. "Well I guess we messed up" was the response "I'll have Paul call you back so we can make it right".
Well that was Monday, today is Friday and I'm still waiting for the call back.
I guess my point is that if they hadn't washed my car the first time, and hadn't phoned me to see if I was happy with the service I would have more impressed than I am now.
To raise someone's expectations then not fulfill them is worse than mediocrity.
The comments are a hoot, but the useful point is that there are no circumstances where sending a customer a note like this is a good idea:
I am the manager of all of Customer Service. There is no one higher than me that you will speak with. You violated our policy, which is, despite what you say, completely clear. No one is holding anything hostage. Your e-mails have been completely deleted, and no amount of money can now restore them.
A common mistake marketers make is believing that there is perfect information between consumers. That when the seventh person in a row asks you a dumb question you should raise your voice, because obviously he didn't hear you the first six times you answered it. Never mind that those were other people.